GD
Geodynamics

how science works

Meeting, mentoring and awards at EGU18

Meeting, mentoring and awards at EGU18

Having just about recovered from the session-packed, networking-fest, coffee-filled, schnitzel-test that was EGU2018 (8-13th April, Vienna), it is now possible to reflect and look towards upcoming dates. Earlier posts in the blog have described some of the GD side event highlights. For this week’s post, I have summarised some key points from the GD Division meeting, the EGU Mentoring program, and the upcoming EGU award nominations.

Geodynamics (GD) Division Meeting

During the Friday lunchtime break GD President Paul Tackley (ETH Zürich) led the session about GD activities and statistics to an eager audience of around 50 attendees. Within the 19 GD-led sessions for EGU2018 there were 481 abstracts (adding co-organized sessions raised this to ~1450 abstracts). As in previous years, the structure of EGU, and meeting fun facts were delivered – this year there were over 15.000 attendees, 17.000 abstracts in the programme, 666 unique sessions and 68 short courses. New to this year’s conference, there was a Cartoonist and Poet-in-residence, re-usable water bottles, and CO2 emission offset initiative.

A portion of the lunchtime meeting was dedicated to discussing the time and space constraints associated with increasing attendance and presentations at the GA. Many rooms are already overcrowded and maximum poster capacity is expected to be reached within the next 2 years (this year 8% of GA presentations were PICOs, 64% posters and 28% orals). As extra space in the Austria Centre Vienna is not a possibility, several ideas were put forward by EGU including increasing the GA from 5 to 6 days, limiting to 1 abstract per person (2 if invited), increasing oral times from 6-8 hours per day, holding different posters in morning and afternoon, and shorter talks (12 minutes). Several audience members expressed opinions regarding the proposed changes, and the audience seemed in favour of more overall oral time-slots but not shorter talks, or moving to a 6 day conference. We shall see what is implemented but there are at least new set of rules for 2019:

Apart from the consumption of free sandwiches, audience arms were put to use when voting for Division Officers (van Hunen, Artemieva, Biggin, Bunge, Karato) and the Medal Committee (Houseman, Parmentier, Parsons, Phipps Morgan) – all approved.

For the GD ECS specifics, we will welcome the new GD Early Career Scientist (ECS) Representative Nicholas Schliffke (U. Durham), as Adina Pusok (UC San Diego) steps into a co-representative position for the next year. Our blog activities over the last year were also presented by our enthusiastic Editor-In-Chief Iris van Zelst (ETH, Zürich). As always, we encourage more ECR members to get in touch with us to be a guest writer.

Some important EGU2019 dates for your calendar:

25 June-13 September 2018
Public call-for-sessions
(the rolling over of sessions will not occur – join forces with your colleagues!)

15 October 2018 – 10 Jan 2019
Abstract submission

7-12 April 2019
EGU2019, Vienna

EGU GD Awards

The Meeting also highlighted the Division’s 2018 award recipients, Edgar Marc Parmentier and Thibault Duretz, which we here congratulate again:

The GD Outstanding Poster/PICO (OSPP) for 2017 was awarded to Ludovic Räss for his poster “M2Di: MATLAB 2D Stokes solvers using the finite difference method.”

In particular, please note the upcoming deadline for award nominations for 2019 on the 15th June.
We encourage you to put forward your colleagues for nominations for both categories! You can read more about the awards and nomination process here.

And with only a single female winner of the GD Outstanding Early Career Scientist Award (<7 years from highest degree; no age limitation), and none for the Augustus Love Medal, I am sure you do not have to look far for worthy candidate(s) to help improve the gender balance of these awards.

Mentoring program – we need you!

In its second year running, EGU organized a mentoring program during the conference. This year the program received double the number of registrations from 2017. The aim is to connect mentors – those who are EGU veterans in terms of multiple attendances – with mentees, prioritized to early-career participants (Masters and PhDs) who are first-time attendees. Matching was primarily based on division affiliations or research keywords, but as there are 22 divisions and over 50 identified research interests, interdisciplinary matches were commonplace.

This year from GD specifically there were 3 mentors and 2 mentees signing up – as EGU Media and Communications Officer Barbara Ferreira said “a rare (and positive) case of more mentors than mentees registering for the programme”. These 3 mentors were eventually matched with 6 mentees. However, across the board around 75 mentees had to be rejected because of insufficient mentors available.

So, if you have attended numerous EGU GAs and know the lay of the land, please do sign up next year! I can highly recommend being a mentor; to sit down for a coffee and a chat is really not taxing and is a good opportunity to meet new faces in your division and from further afield.

 

Tschüss – see you in Vienna next year.

Editorial thanks to GD President Paul Tackley and EGU Media and Communications Officer Bárbara Ferreira (@dinnerpartysci) for summary slides for the GD Meeting and Mentoring programs, respectively. Cheers again to the EGU organizers for a fantastic meeting.

Postcard from Singapore: Global Young Scientists Summit 2018

Postcard from Singapore: Global Young Scientists Summit 2018

Excite, engage, enable. These three words were the driving mission behind the gathering of over 250 PhD and postdoctoral fellows at the Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS) in Singapore. In January 2018, Thomas Schutzius, Michael Zumstein, Daniel Sutter, and I had the distinct pleasure of representing the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) at this year’s summit.

The GYSS is a multi-disciplinary summit, covering topics ranging from chemistry, physics and medicine to mathematics, computer science and engineering. With its theme “Advancing Science, Creating Technologies for a Better World”, GYSS focuses on key areas in science, research, technology innovation, and society, as well as their solutions to tackle global challenges. The speakers invited to the GYSS are globally-recognised scientific leaders, who are recipients of prestigious awards: the Fields Medal, Millennium Technology Prize, Nobel Prize, and Turing Award. They gave lectures and talks, and held discussions both with summit participants and also the public. During the summit, anyone could come across these extraordinary scientists at various venues such as the National University of Singapore, the National Library and the Science Centre Singapore.

One of my main takeaways from the conference is that the boundaries between the fields are blurring. This encouraged participants to ask more questions, even in fields they were not experts in. Indeed, they were not shy about doing this. I have also observed how more and more researchers are studying and working in Asia—just another sign of the times.

“I love the creativity, enthusiasm, and optimism of young scientists. It gives me energy!”, says Frances Arnold who was awarded the 2016 Millennium Technology Prize (MTP) for her innovations of directed evolution and efficient methods for creating enzymes. Stuart Parkin, the 2014 MTP winner for multiplying information storage capacity and enabling Big Data, finds the fresh way of thinking of the young generation of scientists especially interesting. “Meeting young scientists is always very stimulating since they often think differently from scientists and researchers later in their career who perhaps become too aligned with the dogma of the research establishment”, professor Parkin says.

Stuart Parkin, Millennium Technology Prize (2014). Credit: National Research Foundation.

I am tremendously grateful for having been given the chance to represent the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) at the Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS) 2018. I would describe attending the GYSS as a once-in-a-PhD opportunity, if not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The week-long event is highly interdisciplinary—covering a range of topics from medicine to engineering and biology to physics. Moreover, the poster session is designed to bring together ideas and researchers from different fields. It provided me with an exciting opportunity to share broader insights from my PhD with researchers outside of geophysics. Singapore needs all the talent it can get, especially as companies and universities invest in new technologies and spread their wings abroad.

I certainly had several scientists whom I much admired and respected—mostly those who really were interested in understanding the fundamental workings of nature and not those who rather treated science and research more as a career path.

ETH delegation at GYSS 2018, from left to right: Thomas Schutzius, Daniel Sutter, Michael Zumstein and Luca Dal Zilio. Credit: National Research Foundation.

Singapore is much more than the sum of its numerous attractions. It’s constantly evolving, reinventing, and reimagining itself, especially with people who are passionate about creating new possibilities. It’s where foodies, explorers, collectors, action seekers, culture shapers, and socialisers meet and new experiences are created every day. Although small in physical space (the country is about half the size of Los Angeles), Singapore offers large opportunities for high quality research set on a breathtaking tropical island with a bustling metropolitan area. Whether I was navigating the crowds in Chinatown, exploring Hindu temples in Little India, eating diverse cuisines in a local hawker center or relaxing in the Chinese Garden, this beautiful island provided exciting adventures every day.

Solar supertrees are vertical gardens in Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, which are designed to mimic the ecological functions of real trees. Each structure is outfitted with an array of photovoltaic cells that collect and store solar energy throughout the day – power that’s used to illuminate the garden when the sun goes down each night.

I have immersed myself in a society with very different cultural norms and rules from my own. By witnessing the functionality of many of Singapore’s well-known programs, such as the housing development board and water treatment plant, we were enabled to expand our views of what a successful society can be. Upon returning from GYSS 2018 in Singapore, I have gained a refreshing new perspective on what it means to be a part of the international scientific community. My time in Singapore reminds me of the beautiful unity we all share: to further the progress of humanity and better our global society. Through its fundamental research and implementations, Singapore is an excellent example of how scientific innovations can be integrated for the welfare of society.

Work-life balance: insights from geodynamicists

Work-life balance: insights from geodynamicists

Maintaining a good work-life balance is essential for a steady career and happy life in academia. However, like with all good things, it is not easy. In this new Wit & Wisdom post, Jessica Munch, PhD student at ETH Zürich, explores how to achieve a good work-life balance.

Jessica Munch
Credit: Manon Lauffenburger

Research is a truly amazing occupation, especially in geodynamics (okay, that might be a bit biased…). However, disregarding the position you have academia, research is also a job asking for a lot of commitment, an ability to deal with pressure, (very) good organisational skills and an ability to deal with everything on time to (hopefully) stay in academia (if you want to learn more about stress and pressure effects on researchers, there are plenty of articles related to that on the web – if you did not experience them by yourself already – yay!) Hence, it seems that this dream job can sometimes turn into a nightmare, which could partly explain why so many people quit academia.

The solution to avoid having to make such an extreme decision as quitting? The legendary work-life balance: how to reconcile a job that you cannot get out of your mind once you’re done with your day (it’s not like you can easily switch off your brain once you leave your office and forget about all the questions you are trying to answer with your research, right?) with your private life, hobbies, and families?

I wanted to try to figure out what a work-life balance really means. At the very least, I wanted to find a more meaningful answer than wikipedia’s definition:

Work-life balance is a concept including the proper prioritisation between work (career and ambition) and lifestyle (health, pleasure, leisure, family)

The definition I would give based on my limited experience, is that a work-life balance is an (often rather fragile) equilibrium between academia and your private life that allows you to stay efficient and motivated about your research without losing the link with/neglecting the world outside. All of that while being happy and healthy. Easy, no?

Given my restricted experience with this balance, I wondered how other researchers at different stages in their career deal with this. I contacted several researchers and they took the time to reply to my questions although they had a very tight schedule (thanks you very much!).

A first insight comes from Susanne Buiter, Team leader at the Geological Survey of Norway: “I guess the fact that I am writing you in the weekend, on a Saturday evening says something about my balancing work and private life at the moment!”. Sounds quite tough, but then she gives some explanations. She appreciates that everyone is very dedicated to their research in our field. This often leads to long and rather unconventional working hours for research and teaching duties. This is fine as long as it is voluntary, but it should not become an expectation. Susanne’s take on this is that there should be flexibility from both sides, and that it is absolutely fine that some weeks are very busy as long as other times can be more relaxed. Considering her research not only as a job but also as a hobby seems to allow for a lot of dedication while keeping being her both happy and motivated. She also raises the question if anyone is able to actually do all the work he or she has to do when only working regular hours.

A second opinion on this precious work-life balance comes from an early career researcher, Marie Bocher, a postdoc at ETH Zürich. When discussing with her, she first points out that a work-life balance is not necessarily a condition to do a good research: one should not directly link the lack of balance in your life to a burnout. For Marie it is okay to work a lot, as long as her research is meaningful to her and she is efficient and motivated. Sometimes you work really hard, do not have a real balance, have no time for hobbies, etc., but this does not necessarily mean you are going to end up with a burnout. These kind of moments can actually be enjoyable, because you often notice that you are efficient and making progress, which is quite rewarding. Hence, what you need in research (even more than a balanced life) is a meaning to what you are doing or a reason for going to work every morning. This is what will prevent you from having a burnout and will help you to be a happy researcher. Support and validation from peers can also help.

However, Marie wonders if the work-life balance issue has always been an issue in academia. She mentions the fact that sometimes people feel pressure to have a balanced life according to someone else’s definition. Sometimes colleagues comment on the fact that you work late and that this is not normal, and that you should have a hobby (pressure to have hobbies, quite paradoxical, no?). This might result in you pushing yourself to do activities even though you would prefer to for once hang out at home and relax during your weekend. Not everyone needs to have an hyperactive life. Instead, people should just try to live a life they enjoy.

Finally, she raises the point that work-life balance is actually a dynamic equilibrium: it is something that changes depending on your situation. You cannot organise yourself the same way if you are single, if you have a partner, or if you have kids. It is a hard to find balance and that evolves with life and responsibilities.

Potentially dangerous/lethal way of working on your work-life balance
Credit: Antoine Grisart

Speaking about kids and family, the third and last (but definitely not least) thoughts on this topic come from Saskia Goes, lecturer/reader at Imperial College London. For her, having a balanced life means having time for other things besides works and occasionally time for herself – a definition she is not sure she could apply to her own life where she constantly has to juggle between work and family. Saskia explains that it is a continuous challenge to do enough work to keep the department happy and functioning, but to also say no to enough work so that she still has time for her own research, students and her family. She also points out that she has very little time to do research herself – only a few hours now and then. Her main research activity at the moment actually consists in working with students and postdocs on their papers.

When asked how she reconciles family life with her work, Saskia replies that it is doable, but only with sufficient support in the form of a partner, school care, family or friends. Moreover, she emphasises that you need to accept that you simply cannot keep up with people who work 60 to 80 hours every week and can attend three to four conferences a year. Some types of research do not work with a family, unless you have a partner who can significantly help out for a while. Bringing up the fact that a job in academia often implies a lot of moving (research positions in different countries, etc.), Saskia mentions that until now, she only moved once with her kids. The main challenge was then the lack of support (for instance from friends and family) when you move to the new place.

Finally, when I asked her for tips on how to manage all of this, she suggested to make lists to keep track of what needs to be done when, and to then divide and plan the tasks day by day, week per week so that they look manageable. The main challenge lies in trying to balance the amount of things you take on with the time you have!

According to these different insights on the work-life balance, a universal definition seems impossible. Instead, the precious balance appears to be quite personal. It depends on your situation in life, on how much your time you can actually dedicate to your project, and your ability to manage the tasks you need to do (or refuse to do). Hence, the work-life balance is a very personal concept everyone has to figure out for him/herself. Ultimately, it is just a matter of being happy with what you do.

Conferences – so near and yet so far

Conferences – so near and yet so far

Attending conferences is expensive and time consuming, so going to all the conferences relevant for your research topic(s) is an impossible mission. One solution might be to attend (parts of) conferences remotely. Suzanne Atkins, postdoc at ETH Zürich, Switzerland, discusses the pros and cons of remote conferencing.

Last month the Geological Society of London live-streamed their celebration of 50 years of plate tectonics. Here at ETH we joined the love-in, camping out in the lecture theatre for two days. This follows the trend of many conferences to live-stream sessions or make them available on-line afterwards. But can video conferences replace the real thing? And would we want them too?

On paper, there are so many reasons to support video conferencing and replays. The most obvious one is financial. Many students are limited to local conferences and even professors have to watch their expenditure. The eye-watering cost of a large conference like EGU makes annual attendance unfeasible for many scientists, especially when extras like beer are factored in. If you’re only interested in one or two sessions, dropping in remotely makes far more sense than dragging yourself halfway across the continent for an afternoon.

But there are plenty of other reasons. Here at ETH, our flights make up around 60% of the department CO2 budget. Yes, I could take the train but I’m too lazy and impatient (I know, I know), especially if I’m only interested in half the conference. This doesn’t even take into account the vast carbon footprint of the hospitality industry, to which we are contributing every time we stay in a hotel or eat at a restaurant. Remote conference attendance is therefore the only really defensible environmental option.

The attraction of attending a conference where I can sleep in my own bed is high, but for academic parents, or even just academics with a life outside work, the benefits of cutting a few trips off the yearly circuit without missing out are obvious. Especially in the summer season, when we’re all trying to cram in holidays and a bit of teaching-free research time, the seemingly endless round of meetings and workshops can end up feeling more of a chore than a pleasure.

This brings me to my final point in favour. For a remote conference, etiquette is far more flexible than in person attendance. No one at the conference can see you checking your emails, or dipping in and out to talk to students. The university WiFi is nice and reliable. And the quality of the coffee is just so much more … predictable.

So, what are the drawbacks? Why don’t we all switch over immediately? Obviously attending conferences remotely can make it difficult to present your own work and get feedback, which is invaluable for us. We will never be able to fully replicate digitally the experience of a long poster discussion, chatting to someone after a talk, or the serendipitous meeting in the coffee queue.

But there may also be some subtler disadvantages. At cash-strapped institutes, remote conferencing will allow staff and students who otherwise couldn’t attend to see the talks. But it might also lead to pressure, particularly on students and junior researchers, to cut expenditure by never leaving the building. That deprives them of the networking and presentation opportunities that conferences offer. The flip-side of this is that conferences would get boring scientifically. The same few faces would attend every time, starving the community of new ideas and input. Both of these seem somewhat extreme endpoints, which could be guarded against by careful management within institutes and by conference organisers, and the availability of grants and scholarships for attendance.

So all in all, I think I have to conclude that live streaming conferences seems a sensible way to go. I can even head off to my post-conference Friday beer in the common room afterwards. Cheers!